This is a route with a rather complex history.
The first public transport on the route, from 1904, was by tram. Initially from Stalybridge to Mossley Station operated by SHMD it later became a through route from Ashton to Roaches, jointly operated with Ashton Corporation. If the 1902 proposals of the Saddleworth and Springhead Tramways had come to fruition the full length of the present day 354 route would have seen tram tracks, but despite revivals of the proposals into the ‘twenties, Saddleworth never had trams.
On abandonment of the trams, the bus service initially operated by SHMD, jointly with Ashton Corporation, was from Ashton via bottom Mossley to Haddens and North Western operated a service from Diggle to Uppermill, Greenfield and Roaches, which started on 11th March 1925. Agreement between the two by August 1928 saw North Western’s service from Diggle service changed to operate to Haddens and Mossley, the SHMD service from Ashton curtailed to Mossley and a joint through service operated from Mossley Station to Uppermill.
Double deck trams had to be replaced by single deck buses owing to the arched bridge at Black Rock, Heyrod (between bottom Mossley and Stalybridge). Trams had the advantage as they could pass in a predictable way under the arch as the rails dictated where they went. The risk was too great and in fact all SHMD double-deck buses had a notice in the cab saying that they were prohibited from passing under Black Rock Arch. The only reason double-deckers can now go that way (see the 355 collection) is that the road has been narrowed to run under the centre of the arch, controlled by traffic lights.
Immediately pre-war the service was extended into Mossley (Brookbottom) and even up Church Road in Uppermill to Saddleworth Fold although war economies saw it return to the former termini. It would appear that North Western buses ran from Mossley Station to Saddleworth Fold and SHMD ones from Brookbottom to Uppermill.
By the early 1950’s it had become a through service from Ashton to Uppermill and received the number 154. Although technically joint with Ashton C. T. they never worked the service. The terminal point in Ashton was originally in St. Michael's Square. It didn't move to the bus station on opening due to a dispute about fees and the additional mileage, but these issues were eventually resolved and the service moved from 13th August 1967.
Development of a large estate at Micklehurst saw a variant introduced, known as the 154A, which diverged from the original route in bottom Mossley. This soon became the prime route and history almost reversed itself as most of the buses (those outside the peaks and Saturdays) from Uppermill were terminated in bottom Mossley, with connections and through tickets being available. Technically the 154A and its successors are outside the remit of this gallery but the two routes were so interlinked it is difficult to separate them. The old SHMD Daimler single-deckers only had a small number blind aperture and fitting 154A in was quite a squeeze!
The service used to terminate in Uppermill Square, reversing up the side of the Commercial Hotel. This became less practical as traffic increased and the buses became one-man operated, so the buses continued to the Navigation at Brownhill, where culverting of the canal and road widening had created a turning circle.
The SELNEC era saw little change apart from the colour of the buses and renumbering of the 154 to 354 and the 154A to 353 on 2nd December 1973. From 27th October 1974 the Micklehurst service was extended into the new Hey Farm Estate, resulting in changes to the route through Micklehurst as well. The through Ashton to Uppermill journeys were restored by GMT from 20th July 1975 but at the expense of a reduced and rather awkward 90 minute frequency.
20th July 1980 saw a major revision of services in Saddleworth, and the 354 became truncated to an Ashton to Greenfield Clarence service. The 353 ceased to serve Hey Farm Estate and instead served upper Mossley, Uppermill, Delph and Denshaw. To keep things simple it has been given its own collection from that date.
By 1985 the 354 had reduced in frequency but most daytime journeys now ran to Denshaw. However, following deregulation on 26th October 1986 the 354 became a minor route with just three trips a day, serving quieter parts of the former 355 along Shaw Hall Bank Road and across Well-i-hole, but it remained an Ashton to Uppermill service.
As a tendered service, it has inevitably seen many operators. GM Buses worked the service after deregulation but by 1989 Crosville took over. Their operations in Manchester were taken over by the Bee Line Buzz Company the following year.
By 1991 the service had been extended up Church Road to serve Well Meadow Lane in Uppermill. In April 1993 Well-i-hole was closed for work to reinstate the canal bridge and the 354 was diverted using Oaklands Road. It never returned to the Well-i-hole route but it was a little while before the route was permanently changed and the timetables altered. Later in 1993 JP Executive Travel took over operation.
From 30th October 1995 the service was significantly extended through Dobcross, Platt Lane, Delph and Palin Wood Road to Denshaw and was also diverted in Uppermill to serve Grove Road.
Apart from some detail route revisions from 19th May 1997, things stayed stable until Universal Buses took over operation from 1st June 1998. Following that company’s fall into receivership, their operations were taken on by Stagecoach Manchester in April 2000.
The service was extended to Rochdale from 25th February 2002, when Bu-Val became the operator, but these were only journeys the bus had to make anyway to get to and from its base. That was the official date, but Stagecoach were suffering a temporary vehicle shortage due to a safety incident on their Vario minibuses and Bu-Val took over a week earlier to help maintain services.
It became a fully-fledged Ashton to Denshaw route again on 31st October 2004 operated by Speedwell of Glossop. However, evening and Sunday journeys are worked by First from the Dukinfield depot, complicated again by journeys to Diggle in the evening (including Sundays) although the evening and Sunday service was curtailed to only run to Uppermill from 19th April 2009.
From 26th July 2010 Stott’s took over the daytime workings, but this tender only lasted a year and from 25th July 2011 First worked all journeys on this service.
From 28th October 2013 the 354 ran direct along Carr Lane instead of the loop round Beech Avenue. Significant problems had been encountered there with parked vehicles causing obstructions. The evening service was withdrawn from 12th April 2015, passengers being advised to use the Local Link service instead. At the same time the service on Sundays and public holidays started to be operated by Manchester Community Transport.
From 1st September 2015 a minor change to the service was made whereby services didn’t run along Friarmere Road at Carrcote but ran direct to Denshaw, to improve timekeeping.
© David Beilby